Mississippi Physician Sentenced to Over Three Years in Prison for Role in $3 Million Compounding Pharmacy Fraud Scheme

June 7, 2018

A Biloxi, Mississippi physician was sentenced today to 42 months in prison for his involvement in a $3 million compounding pharmacy fraud scheme.

Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney D. Michael Hurst Jr. of the Southern District of Mississippi; Special Agent in Charge Christopher Freeze of the FBI’s Jackson, Mississippi Field Division; Acting Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Holloman III of IRS Criminal Investigation’s (IRS-CI) New Orleans Field Office and Special Agent in Charge John F. Khin of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service’s (DCIS) Southeast Field Office made the announcement.

Albert Diaz, M.D., was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett of the Southern District of Mississippi.  Restitution to TRICARE and other insurance companies will be determined at a later date. On March 2 after a five-day jury trial, Diaz was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud, four counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to distribute and dispense a controlled substance, four counts of distributing and dispensing a controlled substance, one count of conspiracy to falsify records in a federal investigation and five counts of falsification of records in a federal investigation.

According to evidence presented at trial, between 2014 and 2015, Diaz participated in a scheme to defraud TRICARE and other insurance companies by prescribing medically unnecessary compounded medications, some of which included ketamine, a controlled substance, to individuals he had not examined.  The evidence further demonstrated that, based on the prescriptions signed by Diaz, Advantage Pharmacy in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, dispensed these medically unnecessary compounded medications and sought and received reimbursement from TRICARE and other insurance companies totaling more than $3 million. The trial evidence further demonstrated that in response to a TRICARE audit, Diaz falsified patient records to make it appear as though he had examined patients before prescribing the medications.

The FBI, IRS-CI, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics and other government agencies investigated the case.  Trial Attorneys Kate Payerle and Jared Hasten of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Helen Wall of the Southern District of Mississippi are prosecuting the case.

The Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which is part of a joint initiative between the Department of Justice and HHS to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country.  The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operates in nine locations nationwide.  Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force has charged over 3,500 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for over $12.5 billion.

Signature HealthCARE to Pay More Than $30 Million to Resolve False Claims Act Allegations Related to Rehabilitation Therapy

June 8, 2018

Signature HealthCARE, LLC (Signature), a Louisville, Kentucky based company that owns and operates approximately 115 skilled nursing facilities, including 7 in middle Tennessee, has agreed to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by knowingly submitting false claims to Medicare for rehabilitation therapy services that were not reasonable, necessary and skilled, the Department of Justice announced today.  The settlement also resolves allegations that Signature submitted forged pre-admission certifications of patient need for skilled nursing to the state of Tennessee’s Medicaid program.  Under the settlement agreements, Signature has agreed to pay more than $30 million.  As part of the resolution, the State of Tennessee will receive a portion of the overall settlement.

“Today’s settlement demonstrates our continuing efforts to protect patients and taxpayer by ensuring that the care provided to beneficiaries of government-funded healthcare programs is dictated by clinical needs, not a provider’s fiscal interests,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler for the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “Nursing home facilities provide important services to our elderly, and those facilities must uphold the trust placed in them by billing the government only for reasonable and necessary services.”

The government alleged that Signature engaged in various practices that resulted in the submission of claims for unreasonable, unnecessary, and unskilled services to Medicare patients, including: (1) presumptively placing patients in the highest therapy reimbursement level, rather than relying on individualized evaluations to determine the level of care most suitable for each patient’s clinical needs; (2) providing the minimum number of minutes required to bill at a given reimbursement level while discouraging the provision of additional therapy beyond that minimum threshold; and, (3) pressuring therapists and patients to complete the planned minutes of therapy even when patients were sick or declined to participate in therapy.

“Health care providers who engage in deceptive practices place patients at unnecessary risk and contribute to the financial distress of our federal healthcare programs,” said U.S. Attorney Cochran for the Middle District of Tennessee.  “Our dedicated teams of civil enforcement attorneys will work tirelessly with the relators who report fraud such as this and with our law enforcement partners who investigate healthcare fraud.  When we determine that companies are cheating the taxpayers, we will hold them accountable as we have in this case.”

“Our most vulnerable citizens are put at risk when healthcare providers put their financial interests above their patients’ needs and valuable federal funds are diverted from where they are surely needed,” said U. S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak for the Northern District of Georgia. “This settlement demonstrates our commitment to pursuing healthcare providers who provide unnecessary care to advance their bottom line.”

“Signature was charged with illegally boosting profits by providing excessive amounts of therapy to patients whether they needed it or not,” said Special Agent in Charge Derrick L. Jackson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General. “The decision to provide therapy should never be based on corporate financial considerations rather than a patient’s medical needs.”

The settlement resolves allegations filed in a lawsuit by Kristi Emerson and LeeAnn Tuesca, former Signature therapy employees, in federal court in Nashville, Tennessee.  The lawsuit was filed under the qui tam, or whistleblower, provisions of the False Claims Act, which permit private individuals to sue on behalf of the government for false claims and to share in any recovery.  The Act also allows the government to intervene and take over the action, as it did in this case.  Ms. Emerson and Ms. Tuesca will receive a portion of the recovered funds.

The settlements were the result of a coordinated effort by the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, the United States Attorney’s Offices for the Middle District of Tennessee and the Northern District of Georgia, the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Department of Defense, Office of Inspector General, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, and the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General.  Trial Attorneys Christelle Klovers and Denise Barnes of the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, Assistant United States Attorney Sarah K. Bogni of the Middle District of Tennessee, and Assistant United States Attorney Lena Amanti of the Northern District of Georgia represent the United States.  Assistant Attorney General Philip Bangle represents the State of Tennessee.

  The case is captioned United States ex rel. Emerson and Tuesca v. Signature HealthCARE, LLC, et al., Case No. 1:15-cv-00027 (M.D. Tenn.).  The claims resolved by the settlements are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.

Two More Defendants Plead Guilty in Multimillion Dollar India-Based Call Center Scam Targeting U.S. Victims

Friday, July 7, 2017

An Arizona man and an Illinois woman each pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges today for their respective roles in liquidating and laundering victim payments generated through a massive telephone impersonation fraud and money laundering scheme perpetrated by India-based call centers.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez of the Southern District of Texas, Executive Associate Director Peter T. Edge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Inspector General J. Russell George of the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) and Inspector General John Roth of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (DHS-OIG) made the announcement.

Bhavesh Patel, 47, most recently residing in Gilbert, Arizona, pleaded guilty to money laundering conspiracy, in violation of Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 1956(h). Asmitaben Patel, 34, most recently residing in Willowbrook, Illinois, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to commit fraud and money laundering offenses, in violation of Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 371.  The pleas were entered before U.S. District Court Judge David Hittner of the Southern District of Texas. Sentencing dates are pending.

According to admissions made in connection with their respective pleas, Bhavesh Patel, Asmitaben Patel, and their co-conspirators perpetrated a complex scheme in which individuals from call centers located in Ahmedabad, India, impersonated officials from the IRS and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and engaged in other telephone call scams, in a ruse designed to defraud victims located throughout the U.S. Using information obtained from data brokers and other sources, call center operators targeted U.S. victims who were threatened with arrest, imprisonment, fines or deportation if they did not pay alleged monies owed to the government. Victims who agreed to pay the scammers were instructed how to provide payment, including by purchasing stored value cards or wiring money. Upon payment, the call centers would immediately turn to a network of “runners” based in the U.S. to liquidate and launder the fraudulently-obtained funds.

According to Bhavesh Patel’s guilty plea, beginning in or around January 2014, Bhavesh Patel managed the activities of a crew of runners, directing them to liquidate victim scam funds in areas in and around south and central Arizona per the instructions of conspirators from India-based call centers. Patel communicated via telephone about the liquidation of scam funds with both domestic and India-based co-defendants, and he and his crew used reloadable cards containing funds derived from victims by scam callers to purchase money orders and deposit them into various bank accounts as directed, in return for percentage-based commissions from his India-based co-defendants. Patel also admitted to receiving and using fake identification documents, including phony driver’s licenses, to retrieve victim scam payments in the form of wire transfers, and providing those fake documents to persons he managed for the same purpose.

Based on admissions in Asmitaben Patel’s guilty plea, beginning in or around July 2013, Asmitaben Patel served as a runner liquidating victim scam funds as part of a group of conspirators operating in and around the Chicago area. At the direction of a co-defendant, Patel used stored value cards that had been loaded with victim funds to buy money orders and deposit them into various bank accounts, including the account of a lead generating business in order to pay the company for leads it provided to co-conspirators that were ultimately used to facilitate the scam.

To date, Bhavesh Patel, Asmitaben Patel, 54 other individuals and five India-based call centers have been charged for their roles in the fraud and money laundering scheme in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Texas on Oct. 19, 2016. Including today’s pleas, a total of eleven defendants have pleaded guilty thus far in this case. Co-defendants Bharatkumar Patel, Ashvinbhai Chaudhari, Harsh Patel, Nilam Parikh, Hardik Patel, Rajubhai Patel, Viraj Patel, Dilipkumar A. Patel, and Fahad Ali previously pleaded guilty on various dates between April and June 2017.

The remaining defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

HSI, DHS-OIG and TIGTA led the investigation of this case. Also providing significant support were: the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs; Ft. Bend County, Texas, Sheriff’s Office; police departments in Hoffman Estates and Naperville, Illinois, and Leonia, New Jersey; San Diego County District Attorney’s Office Family Protection and Elder Abuse Unit; U.S. Secret Service; U.S. Small Business Administration, Office of Inspector General; IOC-2; INTERPOL Washington; USCIS; U.S. State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service; and U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in the Middle District of Alabama, Northern District of Alabama, District of Arizona, Central District of California, Northern District of California, District of Colorado, Northern District of Florida, Middle District of Florida, Northern District of Illinois, Northern District of Indiana, District of Nevada and District of New Jersey. The Federal Communications Commission’s Enforcement Bureau also provided assistance in TIGTA’s investigation.

Senior Trial Attorney Michael Sheckels and Trial Attorney Mona Sahaf of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section, Trial Attorney Robert Stapleton of the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys S. Mark McIntyre and Craig M. Feazel of the Southern District of Texas are prosecuting the case.

A  Department of Justice website has been established to provide information about the case to already identified and potential victims and the public. Anyone who believes they may be a victim of fraud or identity theft in relation to this investigation or other telefraud scam phone calls may contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) via this website.

Anyone who wants additional information about telefraud scams generally, or preventing identity theft or fraudulent use of their identity information, may obtain helpful information on the IRS tax scams website, the FTC phone scam website and the FTC identity theft website.